Director Sean Branney is keenly aware that the blatant anti-Semitism of Elizabethan England, which permeates Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, can be disturbing for today's audiences. Rather than softening or cutting the text, he seeks to achieve a balance.
Shylock has been played as a deep-dyed villain, a clown or a victim, but Shakespeare actually makes him a complex blend. Actor Barry Lynch follows the bard's lead by making him funny, touching and also incredibly cruel in retaliation for the suffering inflicted on him. And thereby a kind of rough justice is achieved.
Time Winters brings to the merchant Antonio the weight and authority befitting the play's title character. Kirsten Kollender's Portia is a mischievous minx, giddy but practical, sane and very much in love with Bassanio, played with thoughtful sympathy by Daniel Kaemon. Ericka Winterrowd and Maeve Kiely shine as Portia's high-spirited sidekicks. Tim Stafford makes an engaging goofball of Lancelot Gobbo, and Anthony Mark Barrow and James Schendel deftly capture the pomposity of Portia's rival suitors.
By bathing the play in rich good humor, Branney ensures the last scene is a festive celebration of the restoration of order in a disordered world. Designer Arthur McBride provides the handsomely symmetrical set.

Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Starts: March 24. Continues through May 13, 2012

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